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Customer Experience
3 min

It takes two to tango: Keeping in step with customers–and your brand

by Kalev Peekna, Kat Kollett September 29, 2021

In the “Mad Men” days, marketing strategy always started from the position of the brand: what do we want to do? What do we want to say? But the world has changed. Now we have the analytics and tools to understand what customers actually want and why they choose a particular product or service.

They are busier and have more options. They are more self-aware and considerate of diversity, sustainability and other social concerns. Oh—and we’ve had a digital revolution, which has fundamentally impacted how customers experience brands.

All this change has shifted marketers’ focus on the customer experience (CX). But where does brand fit in? Can you be both brand-focused and customer-focused? How can you meet customer needs without losing sight of who you are?

Brand still matters…but

Brand is a foundational must-have. Clarity about your brand position and point of view is central to strategic marketing decisions. But it’s not the only thing. Leading only with your brand is akin to making a speech without listening to your audience. Deep understanding of your customers creates a more complete picture and a deeper basis for empathy. It can unlock breakthrough creative ideas that you wouldn’t have considered before. And it also creates opportunities to change your brand performance into a more meaningful, and more successful, conversation with your customers.

All about the customer

For all the good that comes from focusing on CX and giving customers what they want, you also don’t want to be a doormat. Brands that try too hard to be customer-centric, attempting to be everything to everyone, risk diluting their offering to the point that it becomes unattractive. Take the early Android smartphone for example. Google designed a phone that was infinitely customizable with tons of bells and whistles–with enough effort, it could provide you almost any kind of experience you wanted. Some people loved it, but, for most, the result was a platform so malleable, so complicated, that the effort wasn’t worthwhile. Choosing an Android was more about not getting an iPhone than it was about accessing a particular kind of experience.

The middle ground

Between the two extremes, there is a balance where you can be true to your brand and still create that differentiated experience for customers. Brands like Apple and Tesla do it well. They know who they are. They know their customers, and they know how to do both simultaneously. It’s a dance.

Doing the dance

How do you keep in step? It boils down to knowing who you are as a brand, but not being attached to it. Being able to step outside of yourself, give up being right and adapt to the changing needs of your customers.

Three key ‘steps:’

  1. Go out into the world
    When was the last time you spent time with your customer, with no agenda, just to get to know them? Deeply understanding customers, who they are, what they care about, is essential. It doesn’t need to be 100 people. Meaningful dialogue with a dozen customers can give you insights to make informed decisions. Make sure these conversations are “deep” and don’t center on their opinions of what you are already doing for them. You’ll find real inspiration in the needs and frustrations you haven’t yet addressed.
  2. Challenge your beliefs
    We all harbor beliefs. Sometimes we don’t even realize we have them. But if you don’t challenge them, they become “truth” and can stifle great ideas. For example, “People in the South are never going to like this,” or “millennials value sustainability more than Gen X.” Unless you’ve proven it’s true, it’s just a belief. A good question to ask is, “What if this were not true?”
  3. Get everyone around the table
    When it comes to strategy, do you start with brand or CX? The right way is to use a multi-disciplinary approach. At One North, we bring everyone together: brand strategists, CX strategists, designers, content strategists, technologists. It gives clients the best possible result because it’s fully informed and focuses our attention on the magical space where brand and CX meet.

A balancing act

Brand strategists and CX strategists share a desire to understand, design and create better experiences. Historically, they’ve advocated different paths: for brand, it’s usually an inside-out / top-down approach, and for CX it’s usually an outside-in / bottom-up approach. We don’t think you have to choose. You’ll get better results if you pursue them together.


Photo Credit: Ardian Lumi | Unsplash

Kalev Peekna
Managing Director, Chief Strategist

Kalev Peekna is the Chief Strategist at One North. He brings a cross-platform, user-focused approach to innovations in brand development, design, data analysis and technology, and helps clients apply those innovations to their strategic aims.

If I were a vegetable: I would be broccoli. Because I have always wanted someone to call me “cruciferous.”

Most unusual job: Cocktail bartender at a Cabaret

Kat Kollett
Senior Director of Strategy

Kat Kollett is the Senior Director of Strategy. She brings a multidisciplinary, user-focused approach to innovations in brand, digital, analog, environmental, and interpersonal experiences, and helps clients apply those innovations to meet their strategic objectives.